The results underscore why consumers should be aware of how much food they eat that lists caramel color on the label.
The Consumer Reports tests show less expensive caramel-colored table syrups can have elevated levels of a chemical called “4 MeI”.
Consumer Reports Safety Director, Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D, says “4 MeI is found in two kinds of caramel color that are used to make syrups brown. We’re concerned because this chemical has been shown to cause cancer in mice and is a possible human carcinogen.”
Consumer Reports tested samples of popular table syrups and found all of them contained the chemical. They’re Hungry Jack Original, Aunt Jemima Original and Original Lite, Mrs. Butterworth’s Original and Log Cabin Original.
Dr. Rangan says “Our sample size was not big enough to be able to recommend one brand over another. But we do know that how much and how often people eat syrup can increase their cancer risk.”
If you eat syrup twice a week, around a quarter of a cup each time, that would carry close to a negligible lifetime cancer risk. But if you eat syrup daily, as some children do, that cancer risk can increase significantly.
Rangan tells consumers “4 -MeI in syrup is less of a concern than in soft drinks because people tend to consume far less syrup. However, you can also be exposed to 4-MeI from some caramel colors in many other food products.”
For instance, caramel color is listed as an ingredient in some breads, cereals
and barbecue sauce and if it is the type with 4-M-E-I that may also increase cancer risk
Consumer Reports has asked the government to regulate the chemical and set limits on how much is allowed in food.
You can find out more about consumer reports’ earlier tests of 4-m-e-i in soft drinks on their website.
This report is based on an article in the current May 2014 issue of Consumer Reports magazine, pages 14-15. The issue will be on newsstands from April 1st to May 5th.